I just lost a much better version of this post. Growl. Anyway, welcome to a new year of the LBC. Please participate, please? We are wrecked with insecurity. (I'm kidding. Or am I?) (This was charming in the original post.)
The boys spent the weekend having this fabulous discussion, batting emails back and forth like crazed Cheshire Cats (I invoke because I heart), while I was too lame/busy/exhausted to weigh in. So, this book, this Other Electricities book by Ander Monson. What did I think about it?
I fucking loved it.
I know, I know, I'm not exactly known for my measured responses to things I cotton to, and I cottoned to this. (In fact, my three favorite books from this round were pretty much a statistical tie in my heart.) Is Other Electricities a story collection? Yes. Is it something more than a story collection? Yes, definitely. Is it a novel? Maybe ... but that doesn't really matter to me. One of the things I responded to most about the book is that it doesn't feel like a conventional novel or a novel-made-up-of-stories (like, say, Kevin Brockmeier's The Truth About Celia). It reminds me of a kids' toy, one of those mirrored kaleidoscopes or prisms that fractures the person or people you're looking at into dozens of different images. We see the characters in Other Electricities like that, from so many different angles -- sideways, through the funhouse of time, from the inside out, being reflected off other characters or other stories. The book as a whole is the toy. The prism. The link.
(This analogy isn't that great, but it amuses me because Monson loves diagrams!)
It's this depth of connection that places these imaginary people all so solidly in this very cold place (Michigan), trapped with their own individual losses and memories, which are always overlapping or drawing back from the town's collective loss and memory. These feel like people who really have spent a long time together in a very cold place (again, Michigan). The weather is a heavy physical and psychological presence throughout the book, in a menacing, preservative way, not a frustrated-meterologist way.
I have a special soft spot for Harriet, the plow driver with a reaching soul. And for Yr Protagonist and his brother, always straining to see the floating light of Paulding. Hell, I'm enchanted by the floating light of Paulding itself (who among us hasn't stalked such a light on some random hillside?). More, I am enchanted by this icy little universe Monson has diagrammed.
Matt (I believe) said that he felt an emptiness from this book, but that it might actually be quietude. I can completely see that side of things, but at the same time I must admit to being left with a feeling of fullness. I chalk it up to the candor that radiates from these characters and this world. Despite all this cold, all this isolation, there is transparence and truth. Yr Protagonist has only to clip into your phone wires to hear what you're talking about and to who. Everyone knows about that girl who died. Or the story of the other one who died even before that. Everyone carries the same stories in their pockets like stones.
I'm rambling (this really was much better before) and still looped on cold medicine, so I'll leave you with one of my favorite short short stories in the book -- even though it's not about Harriet. Hopefully, the author won't mind, because I think he's coming by here in a couple of days and what's to stop him from kicking my ass? Anyway, I can't think of a better way to convince you to read the book, or give you something to react to. Plus, it's instructive. Behind the cut.
"To Reduce Your Likelihood of Murder"
Do not go outside. Do not go outside, on dates, or to the store, alone. Do not go on dates with men. Do not go on dates with men who drive. Do not drive yourself to dates, because that may anger the man you are dating who may wonder if you're too good to step foot in his new custom chrome baby-baby car. Do not date men who sit in or lean on cars. Do not sit in cars or sprawl yourself against the seat, or lean up against the metal skin of the door while you are being kissed. Do not date at night. Do not walk at night. Do not walk at night alone. Do not be alone. Walk with a girlfriend or someone else. A man you trust? Do not spend time with men, men friends, or boys. Do not spend time with any kind of men at all. Do not spend time with friends at all. Most women are killed by someone they know. Most women are killed by someone they know intimately.
Install alarm systems on every window, every doorway in your house. Better, do not live in a house. Go apartment. Go co-op. Go someplace where you can be heard, where someone can hear you scream. Do not venture out in public (at night, alone). Do not stay at home. Do not wear black. Do not wear the dress your boyfriend likes so much. Do not date your boyfriend whom you like so much. Do not like so much. Do not say like so much. Everyone is a potential murderer. And murderee. You are the murderee. You are single, seventeen, and thin. You are a thing made for television, for the nights of drama crime. Do not watch crime shows on TV or DVD. Do not open the door for anyone. Do not tell your mother that you don't know when you'll be back. Do not frustrate. Do not comply. You must lie somewhere in-between.
Do not sleep deeply.
Do carry mace, or pepper spray, or a bowie knife. Do carry guns if you can get them. A crossbow. A blowgun. Do subscribe to the Shotgun News and carry it wherever you go. It will be a totem, will keep you safe from harm. Armor yourself: plate mail, chain mail, studded leather armor. Helms and chain-link gloves. Keep away from the windows at all times. You must be surprising: Always travel in a crowd, in a cloud of smoke. Cover all your tracks. Keep an eye behind. Switch cabs. Duck into dead-end streets and wait for cars to pass.
Still you will be killed. You're born for it. Your life is a tree meant to be torn apart by weather and electricity.